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Functional Peculiarities of the Continuous Form in Modern English
Mel'dianova Anna Valer'evna

PhD in Philology

Associate Professor of the Department of Language and Translation Studies at Moscow Aviation Institute (National Research University)

125993, Russia, Moskovskaya oblast', g. Moscow, ul. Volokolamskoe Shosse, 4



The article is devoted to the peculiarities of functioning the continuous form in the English language. The semantics of this form does not allow to use some verbs the meaning of which contradicts the idea of process. Recently there has been a tendency towards increase in the number of such verbal forms used in the continuous form and this is what makes this study perspective. The aim of the article is to analyze the semantic selectivity of the continuous forms and lexical and grammatical factors under which some verbs of different semantics acquire the possibility to be used in the continuous form. Lexical and grammatical factors are discribed in the article and their contribution to the general meaning of the sentence is pointed out. In her research Meldianova applies the following research methods: description used to define, interpret and classify the meaning of verbs under study; and comparison used to analyze various semantic groups of verbs. Linguists have quite contradictory views on the meaning of the continuous form of verbs. Some of them believe that continous verbs denote a specific kind of verbs and describe an action that is being performed at the moment. Others believe that the continous form expresses a temporal meaning, in particular, simultaneity with some point in time or action. Researchers haven't come to the agreement regarding semantics and particular functions of the continous form in modern English. Moreover, the number of verbs that can be used in the continuous form is constantly growing and their meanings change under the influence of various intra- and extralinguistic context. This creates the novelty of this research. The results of the research prove that verbs of different semantics can be used in the continous form in modern English.

Keywords: selectivity, dynamic, stative, polysemantic, continuity, tense, aspective, continuous, simultaneity, verbal form



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English progressive forms as a unique phenomenon in the grammatical system of languages of the Germanic group has been subject to analysis and research for a long time. In Modern English the meaning of these forms, their functions and stylistic potential are of great interest. No less interesting is the question of semantic selectivity of the progressive from in the English language. The amount of verbs which can be used in the progressive aspect form has been increased through the history of the English language development, from its very beginning up to the modern state. Nowadays we can observe a tendency to the use of non-progressive verbs, statal verbs in the continuous form, which before was forbidden by the norms of classical grammar. As we can notice on the basis of the analysis of Modern English texts, practically all verbs can be put into this form now.

In general, verbal semantics may not allow the use of an appropriate verb in the aspect form. Thus it is essential and topical to analyze these cases in grammar, to classify them, to define the reasons and factors that influence the application of these forms in Modern English as the number of such usage has been going up at the current stage of language development.

The main aim of this article is to analyze verbs of different semantics used in the continuous and to reveal factors that influence their usage or lead to the change in their meaning. The research is done on the basis of the following linguistic methods: descriptive, comparative methods and the method of quantitative analysis.

Views on the essence of the continuous form

There are two different points of views on the meaning and function of English progressive forms in linguistic theory. According to the first one these forms express simultaneity of an action with some past time moment or past action in contrast to the expression of constant action expressed by a simple form. Thus, time expression constitutes the essence of the meaning of the progressive form. This view is supported by such linguists as H. Sweet [15], A. Akerlund [1], Ph. Aronstein [2], A. Brusendorf [3] and others.

The other view states that continuous forms serve in Modern English to denote aspective meaning, thus focusing on the process of action, on its continuity. The representatives of the latter view are the following foreign and our linguists: H. Poutsma [13], J. Lyons [10], B. Ilyish [8], E. Kruisinga [9], F. Palmer [12], M.Y. Blokh [4]. All of them point to the connection of this aspective form with a certain action and the impossibility of clear separation of time and aspect forms in Modern English.

Progressive forms cannot be placed on the same line with tense forms. The complexity of the formal plane is reflected in their complex meaning, so continuous forms represent a separate axis which is hieratically subordinated to the tense axis.

Having analyzed all existing in theoretical literature points of view it may be concluded that the main meaning of continuous forms is that of progress in time. Aspective forms are build on the basis of tense forms (present, past or future), both aspect and tense categories find their expression in them. On the one hand they refer an action to a particular time moment, on the other hand – to a certain reachable limit. The choice of the form depends on the fact how the speaker wants to represent an action. Actually the real continuity denoted by progressive or simple forms may be the same: it depends on a large scale on the interpretation of the speaker.

The analysis of sentences with progressive forms revealed the usage of these forms with verbs of various semantics, including dynamic and stative verbs, verbs of concrete and abstract semantics.

Dynamic verbs reflect in their meaning the movement of different objects irrespective of speed of this movement, the intensive character of changes in the position of objects. They are regularly used in progress as their semantics goes very well with the aspective meaning of the form:

«As I was mounting the stairs I heard my parents talking. » [7, p. 14]

«I crossed the bridge I noticed how solemn she was looking. » [7, p. 65]

Stative component is the essential in the meaning of stative verbs, the idea of movement contradicts their lexical meaning, thus preventing their usage in progressive structures. Though in Modern English we can observe an obvious use of these verbs in all grammatical forms:

«I was wishing that I could believe that you were real. And I was wishing that I wasn't afraid. » [11, p. 96]

Verbs denoting states of a person, feelings, emotions and thoughts cannot be put into the continuous form. They cannot express an action or a state as a process, happening at a certain period of time. They fall into the following groups:

Verbs of mental activity: among them are to agree, to believe, to deny, to doubt, to expect, to forget, to know, to recognize, to remember, to respect, to suppose, to think, to understand.

Emotive verbs: to desire, to envy, to fear, to hate, to like, to love, to need, to prefer, to satisfy, to seem, to want, to wish.

Verbs of feelings: to hear, to see, to smell, to taste.

Relation verbs: to be, to belong, to consist, to contain, to have, to include, to own, to possess.

Verbs used in the continuous form in Modern English

On the whole all verbs according to their ability to denote a process may be divided into three large groups:

1. Verbs, regularly used in progressive forms.

2. Verbal forms that are used to denote a progress only occasionally, the use of them in the progress may be accompanied by a certain number of factors

3. Non-progressive forms. The stative component present in their meaning does not allow them to be used in progress, the meaning of these verbs contradict the idea of continuity.

The wide spread of Continuous forms in Modern English may be explained by their polysemantic character. Besides denoting an action, limited in its expression in the past, future or present or referring to an emotional colouring of an action, progressive forms may also express:

1. intensity of expression (They will be wanting home one day);

2. politeness (Were you wanting a room?);

3. apologizing (Sorry, I was forgetting);

4. repetition ( is smoking 20 cigarettes a day);

5. an unexpected action, happened by chance (I thought I was seeing a ghost).

Stative verbs

The conducted linguistic research showed that the majority of stative verbs are employed for expressing the idea of process occasionally, under the influence of a number of factors. For verbs of feelings in general this factor may be the necessity to show the temporary character of a feeling in a certain context. For verbs of mental activity as a factor may serve the need to render some additional tunes of meaning – to show resoluteness, intention, confidence.

In the article an attempt was made to analyze in detail some stative verbs widely used nowadays in Modern English to express various types of meaning.

1. The verb to feel often occurs in Modern English in the progressive form:

«All in all, I was feeling a lot more comfortable than I had thought I would feel by this point» [11, p. 13]

«Twice Mike asked, with unnecessary concern, how I was feeling» [11, p. 14]

In the given-above sentences the stress is made on the condition of a participant of the conversation, his health. In the meaning «to think, to believe» feel is generally used in the simple form: I feel we shouldn’t do it.

2. Very common are in English such verbs as to want, to wish, to will . Being used in the continuous form they acquire additional tunes of a predicted, expected, anticipated action:

«I'll be perfectly willing to go before the presiding judge with them» [14, p. 234]

«You'll soon be wishing you were back in Chicago» [14, p. 234]

These verbs are frequently employed to express the high degree of politeness in contrast to the indefinite form. Compare: Do you want to see someone? – Are you wanting to see someone?

3. The verb to hope may take on an additional meaning of expressiveness in some contexts. Such cases are mainly characteristic of English fiction books:

«Do you come up to Forks much? I asked archly, as if I was hoping for a yes. » [11, p. 45]

«I wished I had let it go. Almost as much as I was hoping he'd been kidding about listening in. » [11, p. 74]

«Oh», he said. I was hoping he’d ask more, but he dealt another hand and asked if we could eat. » [6, p. 129]

4. For the same purpose – namely to show more expressiveness – we use the verbs of emotions in the progressive form in Modern English: What I’m hating right now. I’m liking this idea. I’m loving it.

It must be noticed that such examples are typical not only for English fiction but also for newspapers and magazines. The continuous form prevails with these verbs in articles commenting on sports events and competitions, as well as in sports commentaries.

5. Among the verbs of mental activity used in progressive form very popular in Modern English is the verb to think. Used in this verbal form it has the meaning of «to reflect on something» , not the meaning (more common for it) – «to believe, consider» :

«As I crossed the threshold of the cafeteria, I felt the first true tingle of fear slither down my spine and settle in my stomach. Would they be able to know what I was thinking ?» [11, p. 53]

«"I kind of like it." Emmett was thinking about cornering James, no doubt. » [11, p. 143]

6. The verb to know is also widely employed in Modern English if preceded by a modal verb, for example to express perplexity, bewilderment: How may you be knowing?

In some cases it may render the idea of inevitability of the situation described in the context:

«I shall be thinking of you day and night. » [5, p.102]

The phrase day and night here underlines the intention of the speaker. The stress in this sentence is made on the action itself, but not on the process and continuity.

Non-progressive verbs

There exist verbs in Modern English that cannot be used in the continuous form as the meaning of these verbs contradicts the idea of process. They refer to the group of verbs of sense perception. Expressing senses, they nominate some qualities and abilities of an agent. The idea of process by itself is not common for these verbs. If used in the continuous, they change their lexical meaning and acquire the meaning of other verbs. Thus the verb to see in the progressive form gets another meaning and becomes very close in it to the verbs «to meet», «to visit», «to attend», «to get to know». The verb to hear in the progressive form is usually used in the meaning «to get news or information».

As factors, pointing to the action character of verbs usually used to denote states, we may point out adverbial modifiers of manner, modal verbs, verbs of intention, adverbs such as well, again, soon , introductory modal phrases and sentences. So depending on the structure of the sentence and the absence or presence of certain linguistic factors in it, the lexical meaning of the verb may vary.

The verb to have is used in the continuous form as a rule with the combination of a noun within stable phrases. The verb to be we can observe in the continuous form in the sentence if it is followed by adjectives denoting either constant or temporary qualities: You are being very clever today. I am not being silly, am I ?


Summing up, it may be concluded that in Modern English all verbs may be divided into three main groups: constantly used in the continuous form; used in it only occasionally and verbs whose semantics contradicts the meaning of process. These verbs can be used in the progressive form, but only with the change in the lexical meaning. This use becomes possible with the presence in the sentence a number of linguistic.

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